- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) —The House of Delegates yesterday passed a bill guaranteeing the use of state funds for embryonic stem-cell research after a sober and, at times, intensely personal debate on whether such work holds the promise of a better life for people with incurable diseases.

The bill would set aside at least $25 million a year that could be used for research conducted in Maryland on both embryonic and adult stem cells. The House approved the legislation on an 85-54 roll-call vote. It now goes to the state Senate, where opponents have promised a filibuster to try to keep it from coming to a vote.

Stem cells in human embryos are the basic building blocks of the human being, transforming into cells that develop into all the organs and tissues that make up the body. Researchers hope that with more study, they can tease the cells into forms that would repair damaged organs, regenerate nerve growth in people who are paralyzed and fight off the ravages of debilitating diseases.

Stem cells also exist in tissues in adults, but have lost the ability to transform into new forms, meaning skin cells can only form new skin cells and stem cells from the heart can only be used to form new heart tissue.

Supporters introduced the bill because of a decision by President Bush to strictly limit use of federal dollars for research on embryos, which are destroyed when the stem cells are extracted.

Opponents of the bill, many of whom equate destruction of the embryo to abortion, argued that the money should be put into research on adult stem cells because that’s what is producing results.

“The score right now is 98 to zero,” Delegate Tanya Thornton Shewell, Carroll Republican, said. “There are 98 diseases being treated right now by adult stem cells” and none with embryonic stem cells, she said.

But Delegate Peter A. Hammen, Baltimore Democrat, said research has been conducted on adult stem cells for half a century, while research using embryonic stem cells didn’t begin until they were isolated in 1998.

Mr. Hammen predicted some studies on adult cells would be underwritten by the state even though the bill provides a priority for embryonic research because of the lack of federal funding.

“The science is there. The money isn’t,” he said.

A similar stem-cell research bill suffered a minor setback yesterday when it was pulled back to committee to correct flaws in amendments added by a Senate committee. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller had planned to begin what is expected to be protracted debate on the bill Tuesday, but that could be pushed back by one day.

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